By Fayaz Bukhari
SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – Seven civilians died and dozens were injured when Indian security forces opened fire at people protesting the killing of three militants in a gun battle in restive Kashmir on Saturday, police said.
Defence spokesman Colonel Rajesh Kalia said an operation was launched in the morning in response to intelligence reports about the presence of militants in a village in Pulwama district, south of the state’s summer capital Srinagar.
“During the operation militants fired upon troops, leading to a gun battle in which three militants were killed,” he said.
A senior police officer, who was not authorised to speak to the media, said large numbers of local people then gathered at the site, leading to clashes between them and security forces in which seven people were killed and about 50 injured.
An eyewitness, Mohammad Ayuob, told Reuters Indian troops fired at the locals when they tried to retrieve the body of a militant.
Jammu and Kashmir is mainly Hindu India’s only Muslim-majority state. India and Pakistan both rule the region in part but claim in full. India accuses Pakistan of fomenting trouble in its part of Kashmir, a charge Islamabad denies.
The Himalayan state has been particularly tense over the past few months as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party pulled out of local government, leaving a power void.
Widespread protests have broken out in Srinagar and other parts of Kashmir over the killings. Security has been tightened and troops rushed to potential hotspots. A curfew was imposed in Pulwama town and surrounding areas, according to media reports.
The separatist group Hurriyat Conference called for a three-day strike and protests across Kashmir.
“Bullets and pellets rain!” its Chairman Mirwaiz Omar tweeted, adding that their supporters would march towards an army cantonment on Monday so that the Indian government can “kill all of us at one time rather than killing us daily”.
Authorities have suspended train services in the Kashmir Valley and shut down mobile internet services to try and prevent the unrest from spreading.
Indian security forces say they have killed 242 militants this year. In addition, 101 civilians and 82 security officials have also died, according to officials. The total death toll in violence is the highest in more than a decade.
(Editing by Ros Russell)